Did Jesus have fears? I think He might have. For one thing, He was fully human as well as fully God. It would be natural (as a human) to have fear cross His path. It would be supernatural (as God) to dismiss fear as soon as it arrived, because the love He shared with His Father was perfect, and perfect love has a trust so deep or a self-interest so abandoned that it fears nothing for itself.
But I think He feared the Cross.
He might have feared, for a moment before scorn took over, the shame. Naked and ten feet up, when you’re not a hunk? when you’ve been talking smack about the VIPs looking on? with your friends nowhere to be seen, lest they be judged guilty by association? with all your grand claims looking like a worthless scam? He could be dying of asphyxiation, though He brought breath back to a dead girl. He could be dying of blood loss, though He halted the lady’s endless vaginal haemorrhage. He could be dying of heart failure, though He raised Lazarus from the dead whose heart was fully His. His joints were dislocated, though He healed the paralytic. His skin was ripped to shreds, though He cleansed the lepers. As far as the religious hardliners could tell, He was dying because God lets sinners die – ergo, He was a sinner. He could be dying of a broken heart, deserted there in His misery with not even enough breath to scream.
He would have feared the Cross’s pain, of course. Just because people lived a barbaric 2000 years ago – behind the haze of historical distance – does not mean they didn’t possess nerve endings. Jesus would have seen crucifixion victims first-hand. Knowing Isaiah 53:5, He would have had some inkling that His own upcoming crucifixion was going to be much, much worse.
It was worse because most people enduring crucifixion were not flogged first with the flagrum. That could cause death all by itself: if not by immediate blood loss, then surely by septicemia within an agonising few days.
It was worse because unlike most victims, He was not a helpless insect pinned to a card. He had a free pass up His sleeve. It would have been harder to STAY there than to leave. He had no reason to stay except love for His enemies, which alone proves there is nothing He asks of us that He is not willing to do Himself. He not only could have extricated Himself from the nails, but He could have whistled in the apocalypse.
But He had a job to do.
He had a tower to build.
In Luke 14: 27-30 He tells His fans, “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’”
Jesus was a builder and He had a church to build … and He had two bits of wood and three nails to do it with. He had sat down with His Father and they had estimated the cost. They had laid the foundation before the Universe Project commenced, extrapolating their plans forward in time; for though human freewill is real, so is divine omniscience, and He knew then what would happen and what would be required of Him. But He hadn’t been through it yet.
Jesus was speaking in this passage about the cost of others following Him; but so much of what the Bible says, it says in many layers and levels across time, so I don’t think it’s too much of stretch to see subtext here. I’ve said already that He never asks us to do anything He’s not willing to do Himself. And clearly the reverse is true: He asks us to be willing to do what He does. He sets the example we are to follow. So I believe that if in His human heart Jesus feared anything, He feared not finishing.
I do not know if, in Jesus’ incarnation, He left behind His omniscience and was given only glimpses or visions – as was the case with the prophets – or if the dimensional veil parted at His baptism when the Holy Spirit descended onto Him. So I do not know if He knew absolutely that He would go through with it. It would seem in Gethsemane that He still held out one last hope that another way would be found, and this would suggest that He had no guarantees in His heart, as well as a sort of partial amnesia as far as the forward planning was concerned. It certainly speaks to a very human desperation.
There was one further worsening element to the ordeal that other victims did not endure: the purely OCD horror the sinless Son of God would have at the prospect of being plunged into several millenia’s worth of utter filth as He bore and became Sin for us and killed its power once for all. It would create a recoil worse than seeing a child drowning in a septic tank. And He would have to holdHimself under.
I also fear the circumstances of laying down my life, and even more, I fear not finishing well – and for the same reasons, that I do not want to disappoint my Father, I do not want to set a bad example, and I want to complete the work and character I’ve been given to the best of my limited ability. So I pray for faith in the journey and courage to the end, and I thank Him for the grace that covers even my worst failures. That grace came at a terrible cost, but I’m not the one who bought it. In fact, in a sense it bought me.
Jesus went through all this for the joy set before Him – the knowledge that He was providing salvation for billions, each known and named intimately by the Father. That joy was us. That’s how deep His love runs. And how fierce His relief and elation and exultant victory as He sucked in His last breath and cried, “IT IS FINISHED!”